Anno Urbis - The Roman Empire Online


Home | Prev | Next | Contents

Volumes: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - Lives of the Grammarians - Lives of the Poets

[734] A.U.C. 804.

[735] Tacitus, Hist. V. xiii. 3., mentions this ancient prediction, and its currency through the East, in nearly the same terms as Suetonius. The coming power is in both instances described in the plural number, profecti; "those shall come forth;" and Tacitus applies it to Titus as well as Vespasian. The prophecy is commonly supposed to have reference to a passage in Micah, v. 2, "Out of thee [Bethlehem-Ephrata] shall He come forth, to be ruler in Israel." Earlier prophetic intimations of a similar character, and pointing to a more extended dominion, have been traced in the sacred records of the Jews; and there is reason to believe that these books were at this time not unknown in the heathen world, particularly at Alexandria, and through the Septuagint version. These predictions, in their literal sense, point to the establishment of a universal monarchy, which should take its rise in Judaea. The Jews looked for their accomplishment in the person of one of their own nation, the expected Messiah, to which character there were many pretenders in those times. The first disciples of Christ, during the whole period of his ministry, supposed that they were to be fulfilled in him. The Romans thought that the conditions were answered by Vespasian, and Titus having been called from Judaea to the seat of empire. The expectations entertained by the Jews, and naturally participated in and appropriated by the first converts to Christianity, having proved groundless, the prophecies were subsequently interpreted in a spiritual sense.

[736] Gessius Florus was at that time governor of Judaea, with the title and rank of prepositus, it not being a proconsular province, as the native princes still held some parts of it, under the protection and with the alliance of the Romans. Gessius succeeded Florus Albinus, the successor of Felix.

[737] Cestius Gallus was consular lieutenant in Syria.

[738] See note to c. vii.

[739] A right hand was the sign of sovereign power, and, as every one knows, borne upon a staff among the standards of the armies.

[740] Tacitus says, "Carmel is the name both of a god and a mountain; but there is neither image nor temple of the god; such are the ancient traditions; we find there only an altar and religious awe."--Hist. xi. 78, 4. It also appears, from his account, that Vespasian offered sacrifice on Mount Carmel, where Basilides, mentioned hereafter, c. vii., predicted his success from an inspection of the entrails.

[741] Josephus, the celebrated Jewish historian, who was engaged in these wars, having been taken prisoner, was confined in the dungeon at Jotapata, the castle referred to in the preceding chapter, before which Vespasian was wounded.--De Bell. cxi. 14.

[742] The prediction of Josephus was founded on the Jewish prophecies mentioned in the note to c. iv., which he, like others, applied to Vespasian.

[743] Julius Caesar is always called by our author after his apotheosis, Divus Julius.

[744] The battle at Bedriacum secured the Empire for Vitellius. See OTHO, c. ix; VITELLIUS, c. x.

[745] Alexandria may well be called the key, claustra, of Egypt, which was the granary of Rome. It was of the first importance that Vespasian should secure it at this juncture.

[746] Tacitus describes Basilides as a man of rank among the Egyptians, and he appears also to have been a priest, as we find him officiating at Mount Carmel, c. v. This is so incompatible with his being a Roman freedman, that commentators concur in supposing that the word "libertus." although found in all the copies now extant, has crept into the text by some inadvertence of an early transcriber. Basilides appears, like Philo Judaeus, who lived about the same period, to have been half-Greek, half- Jew, and to have belonged to the celebrated Platonic school of Alexandria.

[747] Tacitus informs us that Vespasian himself believed Basilides to have been at this time not only in an infirm state of health, but at the distance of several days' journey from Alexandria. But (for his greater satisfaction) he strictly examined the priests whether Basilides had entered the temple on that day: he made inquiries of all he met, whether he had been seen in the city; nay, further, he dispatched messengers on horseback, who ascertained that at the time specified, Basilides was more than eighty miles from Alexandria. Then Vespasian comprehended that the appearance of Basilides, and the answer to his prayers given through him, were by divine interposition. Tacit. Hist. iv. 82. 2.

[748] The account given by Tacitus of the miracles of Vespasian is fuller than that of Suetonius, but does not materially vary in the details, except that, in his version of the story, he describes the impotent man to be lame in the hand, instead of the leg or the knee, and adds an important circumstance in the case of the blind man, that he was "notus tabe occulorum," notorious for the disease in his eyes. He also winds up the narrative with the following statement: "They who were present, relate both these cures, even at this time, when there is nothing to be gained by lying." Both the historians lived within a few years of the occurrence, but their works were not published until advanced periods of their lives. The closing remark of Tacitus seems to indicate that, at least, he did not entirely discredit the account; and as for Suetonius, his pages are as full of prodigies of all descriptions, related apparently in all good faith, as a monkish chronicle of the Middle Ages.

The story has the more interest, as it is one of the examples of successful imposture, selected by Hume in his Essay on Miracles; with the reply to which by Paley, in his Evidences of Christianity, most readers are familiar. The commentators on Suetonius agree with Paley in considering the whole affair as a juggle between the priests, the patients, and, probably, the emperor. But what will, perhaps, strike the reader as most remarkable, is the singular coincidence of the story with the accounts given of several of the miracles of Christ; whence it has been supposed, that the scene was planned in imitation of them. It did not fall within the scope of Dr. Paley's argument to advert to this; and our own brief illustration must be strictly confined within the limits of historical disquisition. Adhering to this principle, we may point out that if the idea of plagiarism be accepted, it receives some confirmation from the incident related by our author in a preceding paragraph, forming, it may be considered, another scene of the same drama, where we find Basilides appearing to Vespasian in the temple of Serapis, under circumstances which cannot fail to remind us of Christ's suddenly standing in the midst of his disciples, "when the doors were shut." This incident, also, has very much the appearance of a parody on the evangelical history. But if the striking similarity of the two narratives be thus accounted for, it is remarkable that while the priests of Alexandria, or, perhaps, Vespasian himself from his residence in Judaea, were in possession of such exact details of two of Christ's miracles--if not of a third striking incident in his history--we should find not the most distant allusion in the works of such cotemporary writers as Tacitus and Suetonius, to any one of the still more stupendous occurrences which had recently taken place in a part of the world with which the Romans had now very intimate relations. The character of these authors induces us to hesitate in adopting the notion, that either contempt or disbelief would have led them to pass over such events, as altogether unworthy of notice; and the only other inference from their silence is, that they had never heard of them. But as this can scarcely be reconciled with the plagiarism attributed to Vespasian or the Egyptian priests, it is safer to conclude that the coincidence, however singular, was merely fortuitous. It may be added that Spartianus, who wrote the lives of Adrian and succeeding emperors, gives an account of a similar miracle performed by that prince in healing a blind man.

[749] A.U.C. 823-833, excepting 826 and 831.

[750] The temple of Peace, erected A.D. 71, on the conclusion of the wars with the Germans and the Jews, was the largest temple in Rome. Vespasian and Titus deposited in it the sacred vessels and other spoils which were carried in their triumph after the conquest of Jerusalem. They were consumed, and the temple much damaged, if not destroyed, by fire, towards the end of the reign of Commodus, in the year 191. It stood in the Forum, where some ruins on a prodigious scale, still remaining, were traditionally considered to be those of the Temple of Peace, until Piranesi contended that they are part of Nero's Golden House. Others suppose that they are the remains of a Basilica. A beautiful fluted Corinthian column, forty-seven feet high, which was removed from this spot, and now stands before the church of S. Maria Maggiore, gives a great idea of the splendour of the original structure.

[751] This temple, converted into a Christian church by pope Simplicius, who flourished, A.D. 464-483, preserves much of its ancient character. It is now, called San Stefano in Rotondo, from its circular form; the thirty-four pillars, with arches springing from one to the other and intended to support the cupola, still remaining to prove its former magnificence.

[752] This amphitheatre is the famous Colosseum begun by Trajan, and finished by Titus. It is needless to go into details respecting a building the gigantic ruins of which are so well known.

[753] Hercules is said, after conquering Geryon in Spain, to have come into this part of Italy. One of his companions, the supposed founder of Reate, may have had the name of Flavus.

[754] Vespasian and his son Titus had a joint triumph for the conquest of Judaea, which is described at length by Josephus, De Bell. Jud. vii. 16. The coins of Vespasian exhibiting the captive Judaea (Judaea capta), are probably familiar to the reader. See Harphrey's Coin Collector's Manual, p. 328.

[755] Demetrius, who was born at Corinth, seems to have been a close imitator of Diogenes, the founder of the sect. Having come to Rome to study under Apollonius, he was banished to the islands, with other philosophers, by Vespasian.

[756] There being no such place as Morbonia, and the supposed name being derived from morbus, disease, some critics have supposed that Anticyra, the asylum of the incurables, (see CALIGULA, c. xxix.) is meant; but the probability is, that the expression used by the imperial chamberlain was only a courtly version of a phrase not very commonly adopted in the present day.

[757] Helvidius Priscus, a person of some celebrity as a philosopher and public man, is mentioned by Tacitus, Xiphilinus, and Arrian.

[758] Cicero speaks in strong terms of the sordidness of retail trade-- Off. i. 24.

[759] The sesterce being worth about two-pence half-penny of English money, the salary of a Roman senator was, in round numbers, five thousand pounds a year; and that of a professor, as stated in the succeeding chapter, one thousand pounds. From this scale, similar calculations may easily be made of the sums occurring in Suetonius's statements from time to time. There appears to be some mistake in the sum stated in c. xvi. just before, as the amount seems fabulous, whether it represented the floating debt, or the annual revenue, of the empire.

[760] See AUGUSTUS, c. xliii. The proscenium of the ancient theatres was a solid erection of an architectural design, not shifted and varied as our stage-scenes.

[761] Many eminent writers among the Romans were originally slaves, such as Terence and Phaedrus; and, still more, artists, physicians and artificers. Their talents procuring their manumission, they became the freedmen of their former masters. Vespasian, it appears from Suetonius, purchased the freedom of some persons of ability belonging to these classes.

[762] The Coan Venus was the chef-d'oeuvre of Apelles, a native of the island of Cos, in the Archipelago, who flourished in the time of Alexander the Great. If it was the original painting which was now restored, it must have been well preserved.

[763] Probably the colossal statue of Nero (see his Life, c. xxxi.), afterwards placed in Vespasian's amphitheatre, which derived its name from it.

[764] The usual argument in all times against the introduction of machinery.

[765] See AUGUSTUS, c. xxix.

[766] At the men's Saturnalia, a feast held in December attended with much revelling, the masters waited upon their slaves; and at the women's Saturnalia, held on the first of March, the women served their female attendants, by whom also they sent presents to their friends.

[767] Notwithstanding the splendour, and even, in many respects, the refinement of the imperial court, the language as well as the habits of the highest classes in Rome seem to have been but too commonly of the grossest description, and every scholar knows that many of their writers are not very delicate in their allusions. Apropos of the ludicrous account given in the text, Martial, on one occasion, uses still plainer language.

Utere lactucis, et mollibus utere malvis: Nam faciem durum Phoebe, cacantis habes.--iii. 89.

[768] See c. iii. and note.

[769] Probably the emperor had not entirely worn off, or might even affect the rustic dialect of his Sabine countrymen; for among the peasantry the au was still pronounced o, as in plostrum for plaustrum, a waggon; and in orum for aurum, gold, etc. The emperor's retort was very happy, Flaurus being derived from a Greek word, which signifies worthless, while the consular critic's proper name, Florus, was connected with much more agreeable associations.

[770] Some of the German critics think that the passage bears the sense of the gratuity having beer given by the lady, and that so parsimonious a prince as Vespasian was not likely to have paid such a sum as is here stated for a lady's proffered favours.

[771] The Flavian family had their own tomb. See DOMITIAN, c. v. The prodigy, therefore, did not concern Vespasian. As to the tomb of the Julian family, see AUGUSTUS, c. ci.

[772] Alluding to the apotheosis of the emperors.

[773] Cutiliae was a small lake, about three-quarters of a mile from Reate, now called Lago di Contigliano. It was very deep, and being fed from springs in the neighbouring hills, the water was exceedingly clear and cold, so that it was frequented by invalids, who required invigorating. Vespasian's paternal estates lay in the neighbourhood of Reate. See chap i.

Prev | Next | Contents

Links: - - - - -